When one thinks of the year 1983 (if at all), blues rock guitar heroes aren’t usually on the mental horizon. But in those days of synthesizer-obsessed new wavers, glam metal hair bands and robotic fashionistas, one such figure blasted his way through.
That was Stevie Ray Vaughan, a disciple of Albert King, Lonnie Mack and Jimi Hendrix, and his timing was perfect.
Thirty years is a long time that’s passed quickly, but Vaughan and his band Double Trouble ushered in a fresh take on an old sound back into a weirded and wimped-out rock music scene.
SRV’s sound and stance were a bold kick in the pants, and this re-release of their first album, Texas Flood, is an obvious testament to the potency and depth of Vaughan’s musicality and the empathy of Double Trouble cohorts Tommy Shannon (bass) and Chris Layton (drums). The clincher was the in-your-face Stratocaster mangling, both fierce (Testify) and beautiful (Lenny).
Vaughan was a master of control and fluidity, but also adept at creating atmosphere. Tin Pan Alley and the title track are bluesy sound paintings of a forlorn sort, lyrical and reflective. Such expressive playing remains a rarity.
The real surprise and bonus of this Texas Flood edition is the second disc; SRV and Double trouble recorded live in Philadelphia in October ’83. Texas Flood is a blues rock breath of fresh air, but this live set is a blast in the face. It highlights the band’s top song choices off the new album with a whole lot of edge and attitude. Basically it shows how good they were, and that they sounded better live (a rare quality for many artists). It’s exciting and unleashed and reveals Vaughan to be a rhythmic powerhouse, as well highlighting the inventive and unpredictable nature of his playing.
As another Texan, Charlie Sexton, sagely observed, “Stevie was funky”. He’s got soul, and he’s super bad. When he steps up on the third song of the set to deliver his version of Hendrix’ Voodoo Child (Slight Return) and torches the song with scary zoned-out precision, you hear a master.
— Dean-Gordon Smith is a Vernon-based musician who writes the music review column, Street Sounds, printed in The Morning Star every Friday.